Feasting with God #13
Feasting in the Heavenly Kingdom
Text: Matthew 8:11-12
11[Jesus said,] “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
See in these words a blessed picture, and also a stern warning. Jesus had just encountered the faith of a Roman centurion, and marveled at its strength, saying to those gathered around, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt. 8:10). This was a significant statement, and pointed out the biggest problem in the Jews’ way of thinking.
The Jews, those genetically of Israelite descent, believed that because of their physical heritage they would inherit all the blessings promised to Abraham, their ancestor. But Jesus here was telling them, Your genetic heritage does not matter, if you don’t have faith. This point is punctuated and emphasized when Jesus said that “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” The great sin of these Jews was that they believed that their ticket to heaven was guaranteed, that they were entitled to it by virtue of their ancestry. Here came Jesus’ warning: they would receive a rude awakening.
The “many” who would “come from east and west” are the Gentiles, the non-Jewish nations, those who could not trace their physical ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. Many of these Gentiles would be the ones given the right to “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” While the Jews believed in maintaining the purity of their bloodlines, and valued their racial birthright as the most important thing, Jesus was telling them that that really didn’t matter: what got someone into this kingdom and this heavenly feast was faith alone.
The Jews could not understand what faith they were to have. They believed in the power of their bloodlines. Paul writes about the imperfect way the Jews understand the Scriptures, how, “to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Cor. 3:14). Only if we read the Scriptures and understand that they point to Christ—only through our faith in Christ—do we receive the grace and forgiveness that the Word of God gives.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had this faith, that God would indeed bless all nations through their Descendant, and that salvation would come for all people through them. And that faith is realized in Christ—he was the one promised who would save the world through his death in our place; and now we who believe in his salvation are those “many” who have received the ticket of faith granting us the right to “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
Already at our baptisms, at the very moment faith is nurtured in our hearts by the Word, we are placed into the kingdom of heaven. On earth we walk in Christ’s body, the Church, partaking of that heavenly feast of the Lord’s Supper, which strengthens that faith and grants us continued forgiveness of our sins; and that lets us look forward to the greater fulfillment of the heavenly feast, when after this life will come our eternal life in a glorious heaven, sitting at the same table as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Moses, Elijah, all the apostles and martyrs, our Christian loved ones, and even God himself!
Lord, give us the grace to rely on nothing in ourselves, not our genetic heritage, not our stations in life, not our works of piety. Instead, O Lord, direct us to the places you give us your grace and forgiveness freely: in baptism, where our sins are washed away, in your Word, where the message of your Son is declared and our faith is established, and in your Supper, where we have a taste of the heavenly feast to come. Keep us in that heavenly kingdom while we live here on earth, and when our last hour comes, bring us to the full and glorious kingdom of heaven in your presence. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.